FAQs and other info
How did this volunteer project start?
In 2006 businesswoman and grandmother of five, Ann McCarthy was in Uganda and met with Denis Aheirwe; a village resident from a local well-respected farming family. They discussed opening a guest house to provide work for the local community in the rural village of Ruhanga which is situated on the main road that runs from the country’s capital city of Kampala to the popular tourist mountain gorilla destination of Rwanda.
Much hard work later and with the guest house that was to be called Uganda Lodge up and running, local parents asked that a nursery school be built for the village children. This was duly started and a small nursery opened in 2008. Due to its popularity, classrooms were then built for older children, teachers recruited and employed and today from just 30 children, over 450 pupils attend the subsidised school that can cater for village children aged 15yrs and younger. All of this has been achieved through fundraising, donations and using surplus monies generated from volunteer placements at the Uganda Lodge guest house.
As the school developed, so did other community projects such as distributing mosquito nets and the building of a secure water source for the village and well as building workshops so local villagers could develop skills for the future.
Can I make a meaningful difference there?
Absolutely! After you arrive and talk to local children and parents, you will find that one of the main reasons the school is so popular is that volunteers bring their English language skills and experience of the wider world. Many of the teachers, who are recruited from the local community to work at the school, are young so having a broader range of adults the children have access to, expands and helps their development and educational attainment. The students, especially the older ones, love having English fluent adults to engage with as well as children of all ages enjoying the opportunity to learn new songs, games or simply have more personal interaction time with volunteers for play, arts and crafts.
Unlike other volunteer projects, why is this one free?
We are a UK based non-profit organisation which runs its own administration and has no expensive offices to maintain ~ all of this work is undertaken by volunteers as well. In fact we only charge for your accommodation, which includes food for just £15 a day! After you arrive your only expenses need to be refreshments and other snacks not provided by the project. We cannot offer this accommodation free as all volunteers would be paying for these at home in any event! Any residual money from the costs of your stay at the lodge are reinvested in the project directly helping children and the wider community.
How do I get there?
Most volunteers arrive at the project via Entebbe Airport. Whilst you can then travel directly to Uganda Lodge, we can help with these arrangements by picking you up at the airport and accommodating you with an overnight stay at our exclusive Kampala Guest House before you complete your journey. This is especially useful for those arriving in Uganda late at night. For further details of this service please check out our Uganda Lodge website here. (Please note, there will be additional, though limited and not for profit, costs for this service.)
How far in advance should I apply and register?
The number of volunteers at the project varies throughout the year, however we are busiest during students holiday breaks especially the long summer break, so we recommend that you apply as far in advance as you can to secure your place.
Where will I be sleeping during my stay at the project?
You will be staying at Uganda Lodge which is adjacent to the school ~ so there is no further travel, just a short walk of a few hundred feet! Uganda Lodge is set within its own grounds and has a range of accommodation with most of it being shared during busy periods. This is great for groups who are travelling together, although we can offer single accommodation when available. For more details of your accommodation click here.
Paying for your stay
Payment for your stay, including any internal travel costs in the country to Uganda Lodge, must be paid for in advance and, if you lengthen your stay, this must also be paid for when you make the request. Full payment details ~ normally direct into our UK charity account ~ will be provided once your provisional booking has been agreed and finalised.
How safe is Uganda?
Is Uganda safe? Yes, and not only that, its one of the friendliest places in Africa. Many have a misconception that Uganda is not secure, however, since 1987, safety has consistently improved and Uganda today is considered a stable state under the enduring rule of President Yoweri Museveni. You will be staying in the south-west of Uganda, far removed from the north where there are still some rumblings of discontent from time to time. Obviously, as in any country, including your own, you need to be aware of personal safety issues, and again, be aware of election periods if in major conurbations such as Kampala. But here in sleepy Ruhanga the biggest threats to your safety are going out to nightclubs in nearby Ntungamo and leaving your personal possessions at risk if left unattended ~ the same as any where else. (Please also be aware that because we are a small village community, if volunteers conduct themselves inappropriately, word soon gets around and reflects poorly on the project as a whole which is held in high esteem in the community.)
For the most up to date information about the situation in Uganda check out the Foreign Office website here or equivalent if coming from outside of the UK.
Talking about safety, what about mosquitoes?
Malaria is an ongoing problem across much of Africa and you will need to discuss with your GP the most suitable ways to avoid the illness. This normally involves taking a prescription anti-malaria drug, using an insect repellent and utilising the mosquito nets we provide in your accommodation. Please note; Chloroquine is NOT an effective anti-malaria drug in Uganda and should not be taken to prevent malaria in this region.
Any other health issues I should be aware of?
Yes, including the need for a Yellow Fever vaccination. We recommend discussing your health care needs with your doctor four months before travel to ensure you are up-to-date with everything required for your travel and take out appropriate travel insurance that, as a minimum, covers medical expenses and repatriation should you become ill. We also recommend you drink bottled water and refrain from purchasing cooked foods stuffs from street vendors. This is no different from most other ‘foreign’ destinations.
Do I need a visa?
In all probability yes, however, the requirement varies from country to country. For most, this can be obtained for around $50.00 US on arrival at Entebbe but please check first with your local Ugandan Embassy who can provide up-to-date information before you book your travel arrangements. You will also need to ensure your passport is valid for at least a year from the date of your arrival in Uganda.
Although your accommodation costs include all food and drinks at breakfast and afternoon tea, undoubtedly you will want to take some extra money with you for additional refreshments (not provided) or for travelling about or going on one our our organised tours. etc. Most prices are about 25% of those in the UK and purchases need to be paid for in cash as, outside major conurbations, Visa cards are not recognised ~ often literally! A pre-payment Visa card is a good idea, but stick to Visa as few banks, if any, now accept Mastercard, AMEX or Maestro to get cash or make payments even where that option is available ~ and it very rarely is.
There is a bank at nearby Ntungamo that accepts Visa (again, not Mastercard, Amex or Maestro), however withdrawals are limited to around £60 in any 24 hour period ~ and sometimes the bank is out of cash and/or the power is down. As such, its best to carry in a secure way, some ready cash to see you by if required. Also ensure you have sufficient funds for your return journey home including bus, accommodation and taxi to the airport if required. (This will normally cost you around £50.00)
Money matters to us as well, so if you could undertake some fundraising for the project before you arrive, that would be great. You can set up a fundraising page here. Money dontated in the UK is eligable for Gift Aid, which means the government grant an extra 25% via the UK Charity ‘Uganda Lodge Community Projects’.
Can I bring gifts for children?
People visiting volunteer projects for the first time are often overwhelmed by the level of poverty and basic nature of the lifestyle of the children and their families and its tempting to want to ‘help’ where you can. Unfortunately this ‘help’ can be inadvertently misplaced and have unintended consequences. For example one child cut his foot during play and, after being taken for medical treatment, was given the gift of a pair of shoes (about £1.25) by a volunteer to help the wound heal. Unfortunately other children, who didn’t have shoes either, then started cutting their feet with glass so they could get shoes as well.
Children here in Ruhanga aren’t just children of a family but children of the village so however tempting it may be, please don’t give gifts [money, toys, clothes, etc] to children or families. Remember, the children remain children of the village long after you have left and what may be done as an act of kindness may have long lasting and unforeseen consequences for the child you thought you had ‘helped’ ~ and left behind.
Saying that, to help the community without starting a culture of begging, we hold regular ‘mini-markets’ at the lodge, and we welcome donations of serviceable adult and children’s clothes and shoes, so sell at these markets for at very low prices. The money collected is then used in supporting the school and medical centre.
Donations of school uniforms, books & toys are given to the school to be used during classes, for the benefit of all.
As such, although that often means you don’t get ‘that photo’ to show those back home of a child wearing, say a football top you have given him/her, you have probably left the child better off than by doing so. Talking of photos, please be aware that our children and their families don’t necessarily want their pictures taken by total strangers so its always best to ask first. Its even better to leave it a while then take photos once you have established a rapport with the child/ren you want to take a photograph of.
Is English widely spoken?
Not really. Staff at Uganda Lodge speak English, however locally most don’t although many will ‘get by’. Some of the older children will have a decent grasp of English, although may not be ready for differing accents! You will often find that when asking a question villagers will answer ‘yes’, that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘yes’ more ‘I don’t understand you’. They reply in this way so as not to feel embarrassed by their lack of English language skills ~ although there’s nothing to be embarrassed about as few, if any volunteers, speak the local language Runyankole.
As we stated above, Uganda is a very warm and friendly country, quite rightly being called the ‘Peal of Africa’. Its also a very socially conservative country with traditional values. As such, volunteers at the project are asked to wear appropriate clothing, i.e. at least knee length shorts/ skirts and upper body clothing that covers the chest. Greeting is important in Uganda and nearly everyone you meet will ask “How are you?” to which the expected reply is “I am fine”, even if you aren’t!
You are more than likely to be called a ‘muzungu’ a common term, especially amongst children for a “white person” ~ literally translated it means “someone who roams around aimlessly”! It can become quite tiresome but no offence is ever meant, after all, you will normally be called it when others are calling out to greet you! Don’t forget most of those you meet will have had limited contact with the wider world outside the village and, without television or other media, a white person remain as curiosity, a delight and a novelty.
We have attempted to answer many frequently asked questions, however please note that whilst every care has been taken in the compilation of information in this document, the information is not promised or guaranteed to be correct, current, or complete. Accordingly, you should confirm the accuracy and completeness of all information before making any decision related to any services, products, or other matters described here. If you have further questions, please ask us here.